Amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, handwashing remains among the most difficult preventive measures for millions of Sierra Leoneans to follow. In fact, access to clean water is still a challenge for many crowded urban settlements across Sierra Leone, a small country in West Africa where an estimated 2.9 million people live without clean and potable water.
So, how do you wash your hands if you cannot access water?
Despite the COVID-19 outbreak in a country still traumatized by some 4,000 deaths caused by the Ebola virus, flood survivors living in camps often forsake lockdown measures as they search for clean water for their households.
To support these disaster-affected communities, the International Organization for Migration (IOM), in collaboration with Sierra Leone’s Office of National Security (ONS), has constructed water facilities with the use of Poly Glu, a Japanese water purification system.
The water plants were installed in five communities, including the resettled community of Mile Six camp in Koya Chiefdom, which is located about 50 kilometers from the outskirts of Freetown. These solar-powered water facilities – which were installed by IOM – now are providing purified water to more than 1,000 residents. They are now also helping the resettled community and its environs defeat COVID-19.
“When we came to Mile Six after the devastating floods in Freetown in 2015, we experienced many challenges here, including access to clean drinking water,” said Emma Conteh, a resident of the displaced community.
The community used to fetch water from unsafe sources, which include swamps and unprotected ditches located some kilometers away from the camp. Thanks to the installation of a water facility and a purification system, community members now have enough water to drink and use for other purposes including handwashing for COVID-19 prevention.
“Getting clean water at Mile Six is as natural as breathing fresh air. And for a very long time now I have not seen cases of people, especially children affected by cholera and diarrhea, because of the availability of safe drinking water in the camp,” Emma Conteh explained.
According to Jeneba Kargbo, chair of the displaced families at Mile Six, the camp and host community are yet to register a single case of COVID-19. They continue to observe preventive measures and follow regulations of the public health emergency procedures urged by the Government.
“Since COVID-19 came to the country, we have been encouraging people at the camp to effectively use water collected from the solar-powered taps to wash their hands, and practice other safe hygiene measures to protect themselves from the virus,” Kargbo added. “We will continue our usual hygiene practices and encourage more people to follow the COVID-19 preventive measures, specifically to practice proper handwashing.”
She said that to make this happen, they need to distribute more hygiene kits like soap and inform every household about COVID-19 preventive guidelines.
As of 7 July, Sierra Leone has registered 1,572 COVID-19 cases and 63 deaths. IOM Sierra Leone continues to work closely with the Emergency Operation Centre to deliver risk communication and social mobilization in crowded or informal settlements and border communities.
The water facilities were constructed through the project “Strengthening Disaster Preparedness, Response and Community Resilience in Sierra Leone” funded by the Government of Japan.Distributed by APO Group on behalf of International Organization for Migration (IOM).
Displaced women and children collect purified water from the IOM’s Solar powered taps at Mile 6 camp (Photo: IOM/Alfred Fornah)